Pardon me if I’m encouraged — but not enthused — by the decision of the Boy Scouts of America to lift its century-old ban on gay scouts.
I just can’t get that excited about the fact that an organization that holds a deep-seated distrust in gay men is now letting gay kids join the club.
The dynamic creates a puzzle in my head, and I’m still trying to find the corner pieces and determine some structure here.
Given the green light by some of the organization’s largest donors, including the Mormon and United Methodist churches, and facing the withdrawal of funding from many other donors, more than 60 percent of the BSA’s 1,400-delegate-strong National Council voted to lift the ban yesterday.
Supporters of the change have hailed it as a triumph, while critics have called it a concession to gay rights activists in the face of mounting political pressure.
Untouched during the council meeting in Texas was the organization’s ban on gay leaders. That policy wasn’t up for discussion, though gay rights proponents and opponents alike have suggested the fall of the scout ban will speed the fall of the leadership ban, too.
The decision is momentous. It comes 13 years after the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to uphold the BSA’s right to ban gay leaders and scouts. The BSA had stood behind its ban far more recently as well, amid a string of Eagle Scouts returning the organization’s highest scouting honor out of disgust for the group’s anti-gay policy.
The change is also a very real victory for young scouts across the country, who have struggled with how to balance their love for scouting with their own integrity and self-identity for years.
Just as strides have been made by the LGBT community across the political spectrum in recent years, most notably in the legalization of same-sex marriage in a growing number of states, including Maryland, this small step by the BSA is another giant leap for gay Americans.
It shows that things are changing in the country — not just in the political arena, where changing poll numbers are showing politicians that pro-gay stances are no longer dangerously fringe, but also in the more nuanced corners of our nation’s private institutions, where tradition holds heavy sway.
But I just don’t see this one as a clean win. The group’s continuing ban on gay leaders doesn’t sit right with me. It begs so many questions.
Namely: Why does the BSA distrust gay men as leaders?
It isn’t exactly clear.
There’s no question the BSA has dealt with a record of abuse, and an across-the-board concern for protecting young scouts is absolutely necessary and appropriate. But the proper course of action is to ensure the many measures already in place — background checks, trainings, mandatory abuse reporting requirements, bans on one-on-one contact — are working.
What’s not appropriate is a ban on an entire classification of potentially great leaders based on preconceived notions of what sort of morality those potential leaders have.
Of course, the abuse concerns aren’t the only reason proponents of the ban have for supporting it.
There are lots of other reasons for the distrust, some of them religious. Some proponents of the ban say accepting such leaders — and scouts for that matter — sends a message that the BSA condones homosexuality, which goes against their moral code. Some don’t want gay leaders to send the message to scouts that being gay is OK.
Besides the fact that an organization as large as the Boy Scouts of America should have come to terms by now, in 2013, with the fact that our nation is founded on the ideals of tolerance and the acceptance of diversity, this stance seems to rely heavily on the presumption that gay leaders will be all too eager to underscore their campfire lore with gay rights manifestos or some more seedy, sexualized anecdotes.
The only people sexualizing the national conversation surrounding the Boy Scouts of America are those misinformed leaders and anti-gay activists intent on making a heterosexual orientation a precondition for scout leaders.
At least they finally accepted the fact that gay kids — perhaps more than their straight counterparts — need positive outlets for recreation and comraderie, too.